Low risk of Zika virus reaching the UAE

Experts say pregnant women should not travel to areas where the disease is being blamed for a spate of birth abnormalities.
Dr Angela Rocha, paediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Sao Paulo, examines two-month-old Ludmilla de Vasconcelos, who has microcephaly. An increase in the incidence of the disease is being blamed on the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Mario Tama/ Getty Images
Dr Angela Rocha, paediatric infectologist at Oswaldo Cruz Hospital in Sao Paulo, examines two-month-old Ludmilla de Vasconcelos, who has microcephaly. An increase in the incidence of the disease is being blamed on the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Mario Tama/ Getty Images

DUBAI // Health chiefs said the risk of the Zika virus spreading to the UAE was low.

They have, however, warned pregnant women to avoid visiting countries affected by the disease, which is thought to be the cause of an epidemic of birth defects in babies in South America. Other travellers have been told to make sure they use mosquito repellent.

“We are keeping a close eye on the Zika virus because we know that the world is a small village. We have to be cautious about what is happening in other countries,” said Dr Farida Al Hosani, director of communicable diseases at Health Authority Abu Dhabi.

According to the World Health Organisation, authorities in Brazil have noted an increase in Zika virus infections combined with an increase in babies born with microcephaly, a condition in which the child’s head is smaller than average and the brain is underdeveloped.

Cases of the virus, which is spread by the aedes mosquito, have since been reported in other countries in the Americas.

Speaking at the Arab Health Congress in Dubai on Wednesday, Dr Al Hosani said it was a relief that the mosquito that transmits the virus was not thought to be found in this country.

“The disease can’t be transmitted from one human to another so even if we get a case here, it will not be spread to other people,” Dr Al Hosani said.

“But people travelling to those countries where there is an outbreak should be careful and use some agents to avoid mosquito bites.”

Dr Al Hosani said there had not been any suspected cases of Zika in this country.

“Our surveillance system is very good and if we had a case admitted in the hospital we would surely know that,” she said.

Symptoms of the Zika virus, which include a mild fever, skin rash and conjunctivitis, can last up to seven days.

Dr Ziad Memish, senior consultant in adult infectious diseases at the Prince Mohamed bin Abdulaziz Hospital in Saudi Arabia, said more research was needed into the disease.

“Testing for the virus is also at a very early stage now and a lot of work is being done by the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Prevention in Atlanta to define the disease,” he said.

“Any country which is challenged by Dengue virus will also be challenged by Zika virus if it’s introduced, because the same mosquitoes are responsible for the two diseases. That’s how the disease spread from Brazil to many countries in South America. I expect that this will continue to spread,” he said.

The best way to halt its spread was a mosquito bite prevention programme, Dr Memish said.

He said visitors to South America should use an insect repellent containing a high concentration of Deet.

Dr Lyssette Cardona, chief of the infectious diseases unit at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi said: “With global travel, any infection can spread, but at this time we are keeping a close watch on Zika virus.”

She believed pregnant women should avoid unnecessary travel to areas where there was an outbreak. “Zika virus is a mosquito-transmitted disease, so you want to make sure that you make use of the preventive measures available, which can be any insect repellent or any Deet-containing products, which are the most effective against mosquitos,” she said.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine available for the virus. Wearing light-coloured clothes that cover as much of the body as possible, using insect repellent and sleeping under mosquito nets are some preventive methods listed by the WHO.

No official travel warnings have yet been issued by authorities and “there is no recommendation from the WHO to start screening at the airport”, Dr Al Hosani confirmed.

“The mobility of this population is a challenge to maintaining a healthy population. We need to be prepared for emerging infections,” she said.

arizvi2@thenational.ae

Published: January 27, 2016 04:00 AM

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